Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Frozen Elsa Mermaid Available for Parties in the San Francisco Bay Area

 What if Elsa decided she wanted to become a mermaid for the day?

Well, we already know she has wardrobe transformation powers.  She can also create life.  Who's to say she couldn't wave her hand and transform herself into a mermaid?

Introducing Mermaid Elsa -- available for parties and events in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Invite her to your birthday party and your guests' jaws will drop.  The only thing better than swimming with a Mermaid is swimming with their favorite Ice Queen, transformed into a mermaid!

This is a unique swim party idea that kids age 2-12 will just love, and adults will light up too when they see Elsa the Mermaid swim.
Elsa the Mermaid

For an over-the-top unforgettable pool party, invite both Elsa and Ariel to your event and watch them swim together.  They will tell stories of how Elsa got to swim under the sea to visit Atlantia, meet King Triton and Sebastian the Crab, and learn what it's like to Let it Go and experience the sea.

Mermaids Elsa and Ariel

More about our Swimming Mermaid shows here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mermaid Swim & Photo Shoot in Mexico with Mermaid Glimmer

Mermaid Glimmer, Photo by Robert Minnick
I'm finally getting caught up with life after 5 days in Mexico with the Mermaid Portfolio Workshop followed by a crazy-busy weekend -- I came home and jumped into 3 fire shows, 3 Frozen Elsa shows, and a Tinkerbell show over the next 3 days.

Monday?  I slept on Monday.  Isn't that what Mondays are for?

I landed in Mexico with Mermaid Atlantis, the last two to join the trip.  It was a 3-segment workshop, starting with a whale shark swim and a trip to Cancun's underwater museum.  (I did this part last year and have a crazy cool video).

A new addition this year was 3 days of shooting in the Mexican Cenotes, in Playa del Carmen.  Cenotes are freshwater swimming holes -- basically sinkholes created by slow-moving underground rivers.  They're frequented by scuba divers looking to do some freshwater cave diving, and by photographers attracted by the unique combination of clear water, rocky cave-like overhangs, and jungle vines bathed in sunlight.

This was the ideal location to shoot the Glimmer Mermaid tail.  With its array of LEDs flashing in rainbow colors, the darkness of the caves really allowed it to (ahem) shine.

Photo by Susan Knight Studios
We had 3 photographers and 8 mermaids from all over the US and Canada.  I brought my Ariel Swimming Mermaid tail also, and during the sunnier portions of the shooting days I got some pretty Ariel shots.  We managed to squeeze in some fairy photos too, and fairy-mermaid combo shots, which I can't wait to see.  But in the early mornings and late afternoons I focused mostly on Glimmer.

Making an underwater LED mermaid tail may be the biggest folly I've ever undertaken.  She breaks all the time.  She's finicky and capricious, prone to mood swings, and downright dangerous if I treat her wrong.  (I have a 12v LiPo battery strapped between my ankles underwater, and these are known to explode if gotten wet or punctured).  She's complicated and magical and tricksy and sometimes a downright bitch.  She frustrates me, burns me, takes all my money, and drives me to tears.

Mermaid Atlantis, Photo by Robert Minnick
But my god, the beauty she creates deep in those underwater caves as she glows and shimmers and shifts through her rainbow colors..  she fills my heart with beauty, pride, and love.  I wouldn't trade her for anything.

I am slowly seeing some of the images taken by our fabulous photographers as they post their favorites on Facebook.  Each new image of me or of one of my mermaid sisters along on the trip gets me so excited.  It's like Christmas!  I'm doing my best to keep from madly refreshing the page every 20 seconds all day every day.

Photo by Susan Knight Studios
We also got a lot of amazing video footage, so I'll be coming out with a Mermaid Glimmer video sometime soon.  Watch for it over on my YouTube channel.

Glimmer held up pretty well on this trip.  I wore her for 2 full days in some pretty rough terrain, and took her pretty deep, before anything broke on her.  After the 3rd day she did need some repairs, but the repair process is getting easier and she's already 100% back online.  I now have confidence that she is ready for the public.  Of course,  I want to add more animation modes, more bells & whistles and more sensors and interactivity, but I'm ready to start booking her for evening pool appearances with confidence.

As the summer wanes and the warm autumn nights unfold, don't you need a glowing mermaid in your pool?  :)

Mermaid Glimmer, Photo by Robert Minnick

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Glimmer the LED Mermaid 2.0

Glimmer 2.0 all golden and gleaming
This year has been all about mermaids.

I'm going on Bob and Malena's Mermaid Portfolio Workshop to Centoes in Mexico in just a couple weeks, and I'm working day and night to be sure my LED tail is finished and robust enough to handle international travel and a week of ocean swimming.

Glimmer's new detailing
Glimmer 1.0 was gorgeous.  She was also incredibly heavy, and incredibly delicate and sensitive.  I spent months on development and fabrication and probably even more time on repairs -- it seemed like every time I'd take her off the rack, another light strand would break, which meant another hour of frustration, soldering, gluing, and cursing.   She survived through just two public appearances and about 3 photo shoots before I was ready to chuck the whole tail in the bin.

But cooler heads prevailed, as they will, and I've spent the last month or so cutting her down and rethinking my light strategies and design ideas.  Glimmer 2.0 is lighter, sleeker, and much more robust.  There are fewer lights, but I think the new placement has a lot of impact, and I'm super happy with the finishing details.  She's got jewels and lace just everywhere, and many more sparkles.  What's not to love?

((Warning: geeky bit ahead))

The LEDs are laid out in a matrix pattern (basically a grid) instead of lots of parallel lines.  This basically means the code I was running on Glimmer 1.0 is more or less useless.  Code that looks good on a bunch of parallel strips just doesn't work when it's snaking down one long serpentine pattern, so I had to start pretty much from scratch for the animations.  In doing this, I realize that I have completely leveled UP when it comes to programming in Arduino.

For Glimmer 2.0, I knew what I wanted and was able to figure out how to make it happen.  I am so proud of me, and so grateful to the Fast LED community for  being so helpful and supportive, and for writing such great Arduino libraries.  (srsly, I just discovered a function called "add_glitter()".. if that's not the library for Glimmer, I don't know what is).

My stumbling block now is Android.  I'm using different code and different LEDs and my Android contol app doesn't work worth beans anymore.  It crashes the whole tail pretty regularly.  Grr.  I've been banging on it for 2 days now and getting nowhere, but I do have confidence that I'll at least have something working by the time I leave for Mexico on the 19th.

((ok, geek/off))

So I will have some new photos and video of the new tail soon!  For now, here are a few pics from last year's Mermaid Portfolio Workshop to get you excited.  They certainly get me excited!

Monday, April 14, 2014

First Swim in the LED Mermaid Tail

Making a waterproof LED mermaid tail is ridiculously hard.  What kind of crazy person would even attempt something like that?  

I did my first swim in the tail on Friday night at a friend's house.  I'd tested the tail in the bathtub and fixed any leaks or short circuits I could find, but electricity is sneaky, leaky stuff. I was pretty terrified before that first true swim test -- to the point where I was waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, in a cold sweat.  Would I electrocute myself?  Would I electrocute anyone else in the pool with me?  Would the LEDs work?  Would they all just flicker once and then go out?  Was this just a very expensive and time-consuming fruitless dream?

Finally the time came and I headed over to the pool.  After some pretty poolside photos, I slowly and nervously dipped my fins into the pool, and watched as the lights sank gently below the surface.  They calmly twinkled up at me, so I smiled and slipped the rest of the way into the water, kicking gently at first, then with a little more force as the LEDs continued to glimmer on the walls of the pool.

First impression?  This tail swims REALLY WELL.  The competitor monofin and thinner gauge neoprene I used created a juuuust slightly positive buoyancy tail.  That means that in the water I'm nearly weightless, and just a little bit floaty.  I am delighted with this.  My "Ariel" swimming tail is very buoyant -- so much that it's difficult to swim in.  Glimmer's tail is perfect.

I swam back and forth, grinning like an idiot, for about 10 minutes.  After the water started to soak in a bit, I started noticing a few flickers here and there, but overall I was really impressed with the water resistance of the tail.  Once it dries out completely, I hope I'll be able to find the leak points pretty easily and add some more waterproofing.

I didn't get a chance to work on it this weekend -- too many Elsa Princess parties on Saturday, and then I had a photo shoot scheduled with The Mermaid Atlantis and Lance Miller down in Santa Cruz for Sunday evening, so I didn't want to open it up and mess with it.

The photos Lance took are still trickling in, but I'm really happy with how they turned out.   Good thing too -- right after we got the tail's lights set up, the ocean swelled up and swallowed my Nexus 7 tablet.  The tablet is how I control the tail (via bluetooth), so at least we'd had a chance to set the tail on rainbow mode before we lost it for good.

The ocean waves seemed to be a bit rougher on Glimmer than gently swimming back and forth in the pool.  I'm a little disheartened at how much work I'm going to need to do to get her working again.  But I'm pretty delighted with this:

I'll post more pics as I get them on G+ / Picasa or on Glimmer's Facebook Page.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Glimmer the Mermaid -- New tail creation and show offering

I haven't posted in the last few months because I've been pouring all my energy into creating this.

I call her Glimmer the Mermaid.  :) (She's got her own facebook page, that makes her real!)

I made the LED swimmable mermaid seashells at the end of 2013, and wore them to the NC Merfest convention and they were a huge hit.  When I got home, I decided the shells needed a light-up tail to complement them.  The rabbit-hole opened up, and I dove right in.

The end result is absolutely stunning, and I am completely delighted with it.  This was the most learning-intensive and difficult and frustrating project I've attempted in.. well, since college, I think.  I have had to learn so much in so many different fields, and I've encountered so many amazing people and communities along the way.

This tail uses about 180 Adafruit Neopixels and an Arduino Micro to control them.  It's got a bluetooth feature -- I can control it with my android tablet and change the animations and brightness of the lights.  I plan to add audio sensors and possibly motion or color sensors as well (that'll be phase two, I think).

It is designed to be swimmable.  I'm doing the first full water test probably next week, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I used enough glue that nothing shorts or zaps me.  Nothing has so far,  and all the partial water tests I've done have worked fine.. but strapping a big battery and a bunch of electronics on, and then going for a swim, makes me a little nervous.

Mermaid in the bathtub!

But.  Swimming Mermaid LED Tail!!!

This is a neoprene tail painted with Jones Tones.  I used the same basic method for the tail as I used for my last neoprene Ariel Mermaid Tail, but I spared no expense this time.  I used a competitor monofin (which I like SO much better than the Rapid).  I made the scales larger and added lots of rhinestones and gems and lace.  When the lights are off, it almost comes across as "Mermaid Wedding" -- but I love the fanciness and I love how the predominantly white color scheme goes with the lights, whatever color they are.

The lights on the top part of the tail are individual neopixels cast in resin for diffusion and waterproofing.

 The lights on the bottom are neopixel strips encased in Dragonskin silicone.   This keeps them flexible (almost to a fault -- I have broken them a couple times already!) and very waterproof.

Also I made a glowing tiara with more of the resin cast neopixel "jewels".  Because Glimmer needed a glowing tiara.

All together, the outfit is just stunning.  I never want to take it off.  This tail is significantly heavier than my other tails have been (oof, abs!) but it should be close to neutrally buoyant in the water.  

I got to wear it to the A's Game season opening party at the Oakland Coliseum this past week. They put me by the sushi bar, HA! 

Glimmer was very well received.  Although, with that particular audience, most people seemed to be more excited about the light-up seashells than the fancy animated tail.  (Men.  What can you do?)

Once all the bugs are worked out and the swimmability tested, Glimmer will be available for all kinds of wet or dry events and appearances.  I'm also hoping to do a lot of photo shoots as the weather gets nicer.   I want to do sunset beach shoots, and underwater cave shoots, and fancy swimming pool shoots and snowscape shoots.  I just want to wear it everywhere.  :)  

Edit: If you're interested in geeky details about construction or coding, I'm blogging about all that stuff over at my Fire Pixie Fashion Blog.. take a look.  :)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thoughts on Playing Elsa the Ice Queen (Frozen) at Parties

Birthday Party Frozen ElsaWith Disney's new Frozen movie out, and me being a Princess, I had to make the Elsa dress.  Had to do it!
I originally saw the movie and related more to Anna, the younger sister (the silly one!).  But when I saw Elsa's dress and amazingmagicalpowers, I knew that she was the one I wanted to be.  Superficial?  I want to be the powerful tormented one because she's pretty?  Well, yes.  At first.

The Elsa character is turning out to be INCREDIBLY popular, especially with 6-7 year old girls.  I thought they'd relate more to Anna, like I did.. but Elsa is the one everyone wants at their party.  Is it, like me, because of the pretty pretty dress?  The more I think about it, the more I think it goes deeper than that.

I'm really familiar with all the princess or princess-related Disney stories and movies.  This is what I do, after all.  And the more I develop the Elsa show and find the parts of the story that resonate with the kids, the more I think it's Power, rather than Beauty, that draw the kids to Elsa.

Elsa is the first Disney Princess ever to have Power.  Sure, Rapunzel could sing and make her hair light up, and Merida can shoot like nobody's busines, but Elsa controls the weather!  She can build ice palaces with a wave of her hand, she can make her own fabulous dress instead of getting a fairy godmother to do it for her, and she can even create living snowmen.  She's got more power in her little finger than all the rest of the Princesses combined.

Spiderman and Frozen
He didn't stand a chance.
No other female character in Disney's history has this kind of power. So far, it's been absolutely amazing to watch the little girls see, relate to, and feel that power inside their own imaginations.  The Let it Go song sends them into a frenzy of singing, dancing, and pretend-ice-sculpting.  They want to know how I made Olaf talk.  They want to see and feel and hear about learning to control that much power.  The kids like the dress (they like it a whole lot), but they LOVE the magic.

Thanks Disney, for giving us a Princess who can rival any Marvel Superhero in strength, grace, and absolute magic.  

Elsa Dress Back

Thursday, January 9, 2014

NC Merfest - Mermaids, Fire, Fashion, and So much Love

I just got back in town from the first annual NC Merfest in Cary, North Carolina.

How do I describe this experience in words?  I can do my best to describe the magic, share the art, and reminisce about the sheer, unadulterated joy, but somehow words just aren't enough.

NC Merfest was created by Christomer Starfish, the Mer King.  The Mer King decreed that all his subjects should come together and celebrate life, joy, and all things aquatic for one amazing weekend, January 3-5, 2014.

Fire Pixie was honored to be invited to do a fire show at the closing luau and an aerial circus act during the Mermaid Fashion show produced by Mermaid Atlantis.  And of course, I brought my body paints and my mermaid tail and did lots of swimming, competed in the Mermaid Olympics, and flipped fins with some of the most gorgeous and talented mermaids in the world.

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early.  Today was the fashion show, and there was lots to do.  I hurried to the Cary Town Center by 8:30 am to assist Revonne Carter with her body painting.  She had 5 models in the fashion show, and her regular assistant had called in sick.  She was using waterproof paints for the first time -- I guess regular paint won't stick to real mermaids -- and as all body painters know, using an entirely new kind of paint is really a challenge.

She gave me some direction and vision and turned me loose with a brush, and we got to work as the mermaid models chattered and the fashion show production went on all around us.  The colors shone, the energy bubbled up, and the morning flew by.

Even with unfamiliar paint, unfamiliar models and an unfamiliar assistant, Revonne's show turned out absolutely stunning.  

After painting for about 4 hours, still zinging and full of energy, I cleaned up and quickly got ready for my own fashion show performance.  The fashion show had a Fairytale theme (right up my alley, that) and Darrell and I had a surprise aerial silks act planned.

The show was opened by 3 fantastic aerialists from Cirque du Vol, including the most accomplished young aerialist I've ever seen - she had to be 7 or 8 years old and her act was stunning!

Next came the fashion show itself.  The parade of undersea creatures included a stilt walker, a lion fish, lots of sea punk designs and even a 12-person Chinese dragon parading around.  And of course, Mermaids!

Our circus act was show's finale.  I slipped my gorgeous Red Riding Hood cloak over my circus costume and skipped lightly down the runway, twirling and swirling my cloak like a fashion model.  After a moment Darrell appeared on the stage in his silly Big Bad Wolf getup with a howl.  He owned the runway, strutting and swishing his wolf tail.  I ran around looking for a place to hide, and soon found myself at the top of the aerial silk where I pelted the Wolf with stuffed penguins until I hit him squarely in the snout, and knocked him out.  I dropped the cloak and launched into a fun, irreverent aerial dance.

After the show, all the performers, designers and models took the stage for a final bow, and then we packed up and headed back to the hotel to make ourselves fancy for the Masquerade Ball.

As I am a Princess at heart, the Ball was the event I was most excited about. I'd been dreaming about my dress for ages, and scheming with Mermaid Atlantis to come up with and create matching ball gowns fit for a Magical Mermaid Masquerade.  

We started with our brand-new light up LED mermaid seashell tops and added lots of pearls, accessories and jewels.  For the dresses themselves, we wanted to create them from something really special.  We'd shopped around, looking at so many different fabrics, and when we found The One, we both knew it immediately.

This gorgeous sequined fabric is like nothing I've seen before.. it's pettable!  Pet one way and the sequins are an opal black.  Pet the other way, and they transform to a rich, shimmering iridescent green/blue.  (We wouldn't stop squealing and petting it.  I think the guy at the store thought we were slightly insane.)  

The dresses turned out just stunning, but that wasn't quite magical enough for me and my Princess Ball Gown Standards, so I also sewed a dozen or so subtle LED lights into the skirt of my dress.  The twinkle and fade of the lights is actually (magically!) triggered by the motion of the dress - as I swish my hips, the lights ripple across the fabric and then wink out again, catching the eye and then vanishing before you're sure whether what you saw was a reflection, high tech, or just pure magic.

Shameless Exhibitionism

We arrived at the ball, dresses and faces aglow. The event was held at the Raleigh Natural History museum which was an incredible venue, and everyone was dressed to the nines and looking fabulous.  We danced, we sang Siren songs, we toasted our Merfolk friends from around the world, and we pretty much soared through the night and into the wee hours, before ending up in the hotel pool in our mermaid tails and light-up seashells, splashing, swimming and just enjoying the heck out of each other.

The last day of the event started far too early for my wine-addled head.  We woke up and headed back to the pool for a class in Advanced Breath Holding, followed by lunch and the Mermaid Olympics.  This was a fun competition with events like synchronized swimming, bubble blowing, mermaid siren calling and a dinglehopper dive (that's me in the light-up seashells near the end of the video).   

There was also a mermaid coloring contest, in which I won a medal for "most abstract."

Bet you can't guess which one is mine.

Tired and elated, we headed off to get ready for our fire show at the weekend's closing luau.  Despite the chilly, rainy weather, everyone trooped outside after the Finfolk Productions silicone tail raffle (which I'm gonna win for SURE next year) to see us burn. 

Our fire show is the one I'm most passionate about, so I was very excited and a little nervous to perform for all our new best mer-friends.  Would they like it?  Mermaids are water folks, not fire folks.. what would they think?

As the show was starting, Darrell gave me a wry look and then turned to the audience.  "The sound system has refused to play our music," he told them.  "We'll be performing to silence, so you'd all better make a lot of noise."  

Whaaa?  Was he serious?  No music?  Our show is really tightly choreographed.  We can't dance to silence!  

But then Darrell lit up the torch, and as the fire flared up, the mermaids cheered. He grinned, and started wisecracking and teasing people with the fire as I closed my eyes, felt for the music radiating from the hearts of all the beautiful mer-folk, and started to dance.  

Who would have thought that mermaids would enjoy fire quite that much?  They laughed, cheered and danced along with us as we made our way through the show, feeling each other and our audience so much more than usual without the music there to fill in the cracks.  At the end of it all, part of me is grateful for the silence that allowed me to hear the mer-song burning inside everyone.  

Amazing photo by Way Beyond Productions

Good thing Darrell pulled that fire snake out of that merman.

"Heated Patio" indeed..
We talked, smiled, and connected until late into the night.  Nobody was willing to go to bed and end this magical weekend, or to say goodbye to all the incredible new soul mates we had just met.  But all things must end, and I'm still floating in a sea of bliss.  I'm so incredibly grateful for this incredible life, and all the magical creatures who fill it.